Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Record
The Owls' offense has given plenty of cushion to Troy Taber and the rest of the pitching staff.

CRESSKILL — Right now, one number, more than anything else, perfectly sums up Park Ridge‘s perfect season. The Owls’ offense has given plenty of cushion to Troy Taber and the rest of the pitching staff.

One hundred and fifteen. As in 115 runs in 11 games, by far, the most among North Jersey baseball teams this season.

It’s a number that cries out to be noticed; the sort of number that goes a long way toward explaining why the Owls are off to a sizzling 11-0 start.

“We have been scoring a lot of runs,” said coach Pete Crandall after the Owls, ranked No. 7 in The Record Top 25, beat Cresskill, 9-0, Monday in the NJIC Patriot. “We’re hitting the ball well, and the hits are coming from everywhere.

“Believe it or not, we could still be better.”

That thought probably sends a little shiver down the spines of Group 1 pitchers throughout North Jersey. This isn’t really a power-hitting team, but rather a team that has a knack of stringing together bunches of hits.

The Owls had 18 hits against Cresskill (5-5), at least one in every inning. Fifteen of those hits were singles.

“One through nine, everyone can hit,” said junior shortstop/leadoff hitter Eric Luther, who had three hits and two RBI. “We have a lot of confidence in ourselves and each other. If we get on base, we know we’re going to score a run.”

The win clinched an automatic berth in next month’s Bergen County tournament. Crandall, who has been with the Owls since 1986, said he believes this is the best start in program history.

“Right now, we feel like we can play with any team,” said senior Troy Taber, who threw six shutout innings, striking out eight to pick up his fourth win.

There is a lot to like about the Owls. Luther came into the game hitting .457 with a .558 on-base percentage. Luther, Taber and senior center fielder Ryan Fallon (the top three hitters in the order) have combined for 36 stolen bases and scored 42 runs.

Senior first baseman Jason Smith had two hits, including a triple and four RBI against Cresskill, and is hitting .500 (19-for-38) with 14 RBI and 13 runs. Senior catcher Andy Sosa, the cleanup hitter, has two homers and 11 RBI.

And don’t think all the muscle is in the top of the order. The Owls showed off that diversity that Crandall was bragging about by collecting seven hits in the combination of senior right fielder Anthony Altomare, junior second baseman Kyle McCann and senior left fielder Jon Hodgins, the bottom third of the order. McCann, the No. 8 hitter against Cresskill, is hitting over .400 with 14 runs and 10 RBI. All told, five players have 10 or more RBI.

And this team isn’t simply outslugging opponents. Park Ridge has allowed 43 runs, 18 earned. This was the Owls’ first shutout, but they’ve allowed four runs or less in eight games.

That means the Park Ridge pitchers haven’t had to do much sweating through the first few weeks of the season. It also means the Owls seem poised for an interesting tournament run. “We’re just taking it one game at a time right now,” Taber said.